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Dukes get off the deck: Breaking down JMU playoff rally

JMU was, clearly, rattled. An uncharacteristic defensive breakdown led to an 81-yard TD pass that gave Weber State a 14-10 lead in the third quarter, and then things seemed to start to snowball.

First, a penalty on the kick return, an unsportsmanlike conduct call on Ron’Dell Carter, set the Dukes back to their own 13 to start their next drive.

Then came a false-start penalty, then an illegal formation penalty that negated a big gainer on a pop pass into plus territory.

Another false start, and it was still first down, at the JMU 2.

The Dukes would have to punt from their end zone, likely giving up great field position to the Wildcats, who stared prosperity in the face themselves, with a penalty on the return, then an interception on the ensuing series.

That crisis averted, next up was maybe the wildest fourth quarter in JMU football history, with the Dukes and ‘Cats trading the lead on back-to-back drives, Madison having a TD called back before settling for a field goal, then Weber State bleeding clock before scoring on a 36-yard jump pass with 3:14 to go to go up eight.

A big kick return gave JMU great field position, and a quick four-play, 52-yard drive ended with a Bryan Schor-to-Riley Stapleton touchdown with 2:08 to go.

The Dukes had used a timeout to try to save time on the Weber State TD drive, so they were already down to two, and then coach Mike Houston used his second to get everybody together for the two-point conversion play, which now absolutely had to work, because if it didn’t, you’re down to one timeout, 2:08 to go, and you’d need to recover an onside kick, because Weber State can basically clock it otherwise.

The ball went to Trai Sharp on an inside zone run to the left side of the line. There was contact at the line, but Sharp fought through to the end zone for the conversion, and tie ballgame.

But still, there was that 2:08 left, for a Wildcats offense that had put up 21 points in the second half.

Stefan Cantwell missed Rashid Shaheed on first down, and the call on second down, a Kevin Smith run, only gained a yard, bringing up a third-and-nine.

Cantwell looked for Andrew Vollert, his big tight end, five catches on the night, 61 on the year.

Incomplete.

Madison gets the ball back at its 31 with 1:06 to go, one timeout. Schor goes incomplete on first down, and on second down, JMU is flagged for illegal substitution, 12 men in the formation.

On second-and-15, Schor finds Terrence Alls for an apparent first down, but after a review, the call is reversed and it’s third-and-one at the 40.

Sharp gains a tough four yards to move the chains, and the Dukes go tempo with their two-minute offense, and Schor finds Stapleton for 17 yards into plus territory, at the Weber State 39.

Incomplete passes on first and second down get us to third-and-10. Schor again finds Stapleton, just short of the first down, at the 30.

The clock ticks, ticks, ticks, until there’s one second left. Timeout.

Enter Ethan Ratke, who has connected on two field-goal tries, but also had a 36-yarder at the end of the first half blocked and returned for an apparent Weber State touchdown, called back by a blocking penalty on the return.

That has to be on his mind, basically, don’t drive this one too low.

Weber State opts for the timeout to ice Ratke, though you have to wonder if that stratagem will actually work, or just give the kicker more time to steel himself for what is to come.

The kick came off perfect, above the line, plenty of leg, just inside the right upright.

Good.

There were numerous times when this one could have, should have, gone Weber State’s way.

But this is what great teams do. JMU hadn’t trailed in the fourth quarter for more than a calendar year, so you had to wonder how it would respond in this kind of situation, season on the line, needing to make not one, not two, but a number of big plays, to keep things moving.

The Dukes got off the deck, and play on.

Story by Chris Graham



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